If your kids are pestering you for a portable games machine but you’re concerned about educational value, then the Leapster 2 could be what you’re looking for. It’s certainly a robust unit that stands out, although for the price we could wish for a better screen and more variety in titles.
The Leapster 2 game system looks rather like a Gameboy Advance on steroids. Serious steroids, that have not only enlarged the unit to a significant degree, but in the case of our review unit, also turned the whole affair green, with blue handgrips to boot. A pink and purple unit is also available.
While the design in either colour is a little garish, it’s also quite sensible, as this is built as an educational toy for children, and children are all too often not that delicate with games and toys. The Leapster 2 uses two primary methods of navigation and control within its educational games; either a direction pad and two buttons, labelled A (the larger and more frequently used button) or, unsurprisingly, B. There are also buttons to pause, repeat requests, head to a main home screen, and adjust screen brightness and volume dotted around the button. The other method used for input is a stylus, and with the view that kids will probably lose anything that’s not nailed down, the stylus attaches via a loop to the base of the Leapster 2 and slots into a socket at the top.
The core Leapster 2 system comes with two inbuilt games, Creativity Castle and Dragons To The Rescue. Creativity Castle is a simple painting activity game, while Dragons To The Rescue charges young players with identifying letters and numbers in a simple flying game.
Leapfrog has marketed a previous Leapster console, so what’s new in the Leapster 2? Well, apart from being somewhat smaller, it also comes with a USB socket, which can be connected up to a PC or Mac, allowing you to track your child’s progress, print off rewards earned ingame, and also go online to download additional Leapster 2 specific activities and games for your child. It’s a nice nod to extendability, although it will be interesting to see how many additional packages (and for how long) LeapFrog supports Leapster 2’s online activities, dubbed ‘The learning path’.
Our first adult impressions of the Leapster 2, it must be said, weren’t terribly good. The screen is a bit washed out, the audio is a bit boomy (although we were pleased to note that unlike a lot of noisy children’s electronic educational toys, the Leapster 2 does come with a headphone socket).
The bright colours might strike adults as a bit much, but our test group of children were immediately drawn to it. Likewise, while adults would spot that the Leapster 2’s LCD screen is remarkably low quality, none of our test group even commented on it; they were too busy being drawn in by the animation and music. We tested with the inbuilt games, along with a single review cartridge, Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Jedi Math. It is worth noting that some educational titles do exist for competing consoles – most notably Nintendo’s DS system, which has a much better screen and graphical capabilities as well.
The Leapster 2 offers a reasonable middle ground between a full games system and, say, a textbook. We do wish it had a better screen at the asking price, though.